My father used to say that I made my own trouble. He was right, of course. But in my defense, I can tell you precisely why that was the case. Whenever anyone asked me if I could do something I’d never done before — or whenever I saw some great opportunity out there that looked good to me– I was the first one to blurt out an emphatic yes. Yes, I can write that. Yes, I can teach that. Yes, I can make that. Yes, I can do that. I’ve yessed myself through life even when I didn’t have clue about what I would have to do or how I would do it. I just said yes.
Want some examples? Well, here are just a few of the things that I have said yes to in my life with no relevant experience under my belt and without really knowing what would be involved:
- Write my first book for Prentice-Hall
- Chair an English as a Second Language program at a university
- Serve as a marriage celebrant and legally marry a couple
- Write a newsletter for hospital medical directors
- Serve as an expert witness in a court case
- Sing our national anthem at a golf tournament
- Script and emcee a university commencement ceremony
- Write an elementary school spirit song
- Accompany a novice tuba player on the piano for a music competition
- Make 1,600 chocolates for my nephew’s Bar Mitzvah
- Play Here Comes the Bride for a wedding
- Lead an Irish sing-along, and
- Give subcutaneous fluids to a cat
Why would I say yes to such things if I didn’t know how to do them? Because that’s how I’ve gotten to do amazing things in my life (fluids for the cat aside). I suppose I could have been conservative and taken on challenges only after I’d had proper training and experience. But what fun would that have been? Besides, saying yes when you don’t know what you’re doing is an invigorating leap of faith – in yourself. I may not always have known how to do the things I committed to doing. But I believed in me and I believed that I would ultimately figure things out. Call it gumption, call it confidence, or call it foolishness if you like. But whatever you call it, my yesses have given me opportunities that other people have not had.
Mind you, once I say yes to something I don’t know how to do, I react pretty normally. I panic just like anyone would and tell myself that I must have been completely nuts to say that I could do whatever it was. But then, inevitably, I calm myself down and get to work, and guess what happens? Somehow, I manage to write the book, to bang out the chocolates, to accompany the tuba, or to do whatever other crazy thing I said that I could do.
My daughter, Meredith, has told me that she thinks of her mother as a “professional expert”. According to her, it doesn’t matter what task is in front of me. She says I will always appear to be an expert in it – and then, somehow or other, I will actually become one. The kid has a point. Some people learn to swim by taking lessons in the shallow end of the pool, blowing bubbles, and learning technique step by step. I guess I’m the type that learns best by jumping into the deep end. I may flail and sputter a bit but somehow, I will always manage to stay afloat. And most people will think I know what I’m doing while I figure things out.
The next time you’re wondering if you should agree to do something that’s completely new and unfamiliar to you, don’t back off. Don’t let a lack of knowledge and experience stop you from doing what you would like to do in your life. Take a giant leap of faith and join me in the deep end. Say yes. You’ll figure out how to do whatever it is that you’ve agreed to do. Don’t worry when the panic sets in, because believe me, it will. But it won’t last. Don’t worry about the trouble you will create for yourself either. It will be worth it. Besides, what’s so bad about making a little trouble in your life? After all, the world needs more experts, doesn’t it? — Dr. Laura Hills, President, Blue Pencil Institute, www.bluepencilinstitute.com